Michigan for the Winter by Rebecca Sharp

Well, this was certainly a change of scene.

The bell on the door to Hurd’s Hardware continued to ding like a broken record after I was several steps inside. Using the last bit of the welcome mat, I roughly wiped the snow from the bottom of my boots like I could just as easily wipe away the troubles that brought me here.

Pulling off my gloves, I rubbed my palms together but my hands were too frozen for friction to help. It was incredible how my fingers were chilled to the bone from only the fifteen-feet walk between my rental SUV and the store’s entrance. Instead of sunny and seventy-five, the Michigan version of Joe Nichols’ song would read, ‘snowy and negative five.’

Or worse—but I’d stopped checking the thermometer.

Flicking my gaze around the interior, I realized this was more than a hardware store. The log-cabin style walls were covered with hooks, hangers, and containers, holding everything from hardware to hunting gear to auto parts until it looked like a Christmas tree turned inside out, decorated with tools instead of ornaments. Then came the three aisles of food stuffs, all of it processed or canned—which made sense. I couldn’t remember the last grocery store I passed on my drive north on route 246 out of Traverse City.

This was the first place that showed any semblance of life with the half-lit sign for Hurd’s Hard; the ‘ware’ lacked any illumination.

Trudging forward, I ignored the food and the two coolers of beer that flanked the central counter, along with the—hot dog machine? I shook my head. Welcome to Michigan.

The invitation to ‘sunny and seventy-five’ Miami for the week had sent me flying in the opposite direction. I’d traded sand for snow, celebration for solitude, and warmth for winter.

I’d flown to Michigan and rented a small cabin for the entire month. Maybe I shouldn’t have booked the place when I was three fingers deep in my favorite bottle of Lagavulin and scouring the web for someplace Hailey would’ve hated. Now that I was sober, snow-laden, and starving, I realized a small apartment in Traverse City would’ve done the trick. Instead, I’d driven an hour north to Bellaire and then turned east to the middle of nowhere, Michigan, in search of a damn cabin too remote to even have decipherable directions.

I stopped in front of the counter and cleared my throat to get the attention of the large man who worked behind it with his flannel-layered back to me. Because the broken bell hadn’t done the trick.

I waited. Nothing.

“Excuse me,” I said loudly through my scarf when the man still didn’t turn. If I could avoid removing any more layers that I’d just have to put right back on, it was preferable.

The man’s arms paused and his beaver hat popped up between broad shoulders. The thick torso turned around slowly, whether out of necessity or caution I couldn’t be sure, and revealed a face grizzlier than human with more hair than skin and two slits for eyes that peeked out between the hills of his cheeks and the hedges of his brows.

He could kill me.

His gaze narrowed.

Definitely an ax murderer. Fuck.

And then his face transformed, white teeth beaming through the thicket of his beard. His upper half bounced as he chortled with high-pitched exuberance.

“Oohoo! Hallo!” His hands rose in front of the barrel of his chest, fingers touching and tapping together with glee. “Welcome! Welcome to Hurd’s. You must be new here. I’m Kurt.”

I gaped. ”Just visiting. I was—” I hardly got out two words before he continued with his jovial rambling.

“Right now, we have our big winter blowout going on. Huge discounts on hunting gear and beer.” Because those two things seemed like a good idea to do together. “I can also do a discount for bulk purchases of firewood.”

There were several loud but muffled thumps that came from the back corner of the store, and I felt some relief to know it wasn’t just me and the happy-go-lucky killer in here.

“I don’t need—”

“I also have our summer section on clearance.” He pointed me to the corner on my left, a single fishing pole, a women’s bathing suit, two pairs of flip flops, and three bottles of sunscreen were crammed into the space with a handwritten ‘Clearance’ sign duct taped to the top of the fishing pole.

“Thank you. I’m not looking to buy—” I swallowed down my growl as he cut me off again. So close.

“Oh, are you looking for the butcher?” Of course, this place housed a butcher. A flash of blonde hair caught my eye. “There is still some selection left in our freezer section, but she should have fresh stock next—”